Sunday, April 1, 2007
A "Prairie Home Companion" Companion
As I was watching Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep starring as gospelish singing sisters in A Prairie Home Companion, I got to wondering if Tomlin couldn't have had Streep's career had she wanted it. They're actually a decade apart in age, and Tomlin had her first (and only) Oscar nomination before Streep even made a picture, but if anything, Lily's early start should have given her a leg up, since the Seventies were something of a better time for women's roles than anything that has come since.
Streep has the somewhat juicier part in Prairie, since she plays both Lindsay Lohan's mother and Garrison Keillor's ex, but Tomlin makes the stronger impression, all edgy and sardonic and Midwestern (she's actually from Detroit, which probably helps). And Holy Jesus, was Lily ever good in Nashville, beaming at her deaf children, frustrated with her marriage to Ned Beatty (but who wouldn't be), and somehow surviving her heartbreaking dalliance with Keith Carradine. Between those two pictures, though, there are a whole lot of empty spaces, and I know she was on Broadway and doing All of Me with Steve Martin and making a whole bunch of "Magic School Bus" cartoons, but there could have been so much more. She could have been Meryl Streep.
Prairie and Nashville are both Altman, of course, so maybe he had something to do with her performances in both. I mean, all I ever hear about Lindsay Lohan is that she's in rehab or drunk or something, but she is wonderful here, gawky and adolescent and comfortable as part of the ensemble yet enough of a star not to get blown away by Meryl and Lily. To the end, Altman knew what he was doing (and I'm going to forgive him for including the Kevin Kline character, a woefully out of place detective with the crushingly awful name of Guy Noir).